Have you ever found yourself in an ethical hunting dilemma before?
If you've been hunting more than a few years, you've likely encountered an ethical dilemma at some point in time.
Whether you are sitting up high in a treestand bowhunting for a big whitetail buck or in a ground blind trying to draw some wild turkeys closer to your decoys, there are some moments hunters education can't prepare you for.
Which is why we've come up with three hypothetical hunting ethics situations.
It's worth going over hunting scenarios like this in your mind and asking yourself what you would do in this situation.
1. Wounded animal
Hypothetically, let's say you are deer hunting. It could be early season or late season, doesn't matter. You've put in a lot of time in the offseason scouting and preparing for this hunt. You've worked your food plots and you've run your trail cameras. There is one big buck in you've had your eye on, and you finally have his patterns down pat.
Today, the wind is perfect, the weather is cool and deer movement is already noticeable in some open fields as you drive home from work. You head to your best stand for the first time all year knowing that big buck will likely make his movement past your stand tonight.
Early in the hunt, you hear something moving through the brush from the direction you expect this buck. This is it, the moment of truth. But instead of that big buck, it's a young 1.5-year-old buck with busted-up antlers.
He's limping badly, his tongue is hanging out. He looks exhausted and it's just clear something is wrong with this animal. Whether he was hurt by another deer, hit by a car or shot by another hunter, you quickly realize this deer has a long, slow death ahead of it.
What do you do? Do you put him out of his misery and potentially ruin your chance at the big buck? Or do you let him go, knowing he will likely have an arduous, uncomfortable death, potentially in the jaws of a pack of coyotes?
This is probably one of the toughest decisions many hunters will ever have to face. If you want to make it even tougher, assume you're in a state that only allows one buck tag per deer season, like Ohio.
We don't want to tell anyone what they can and cannot do legally. You're certainly not obligated to shoot the deer. In some ways, you could just argue that's nature being nature. She is rarely fair and rarely does she provide a quick, painless death.
Personally, I'd have to seriously consider putting this deer down. I wouldn't like using my tag like that, but sometimes as deer hunters, we need to do the right thing. It also makes certain the venison doesn't go to waste rotting in the forest, as long as you do the necessary checks to determine it's safe to eat.
So ask yourself, what would you do in this situation?
2. Encountering a trespasser
Imagine you're on a swath of private land you've earned permission to hunt, sitting within sight distance a property line. Maybe it's early October deer season or spring turkey; again, it doesn't matter what season it is.
You see movement on the fence line, and instantly realize it's not what you came into the woods for today.
It's another hunter. It's obvious they're hunting because of the hunting gear and their weapon, maybe a rifle or crossbow. And then they do the unthinkable. They cross the property line onto the side where they don't have permission to be. It's pretty clear they did it purposefully.
An alternative to this scenario might be walking to your treestand on opening morning only to find it occupied by a stranger. Or maybe you check your trail camera photos only to get a clear photo of the neighbor on your property, rifle in hand, or worse, dragging out a deer.
Sometimes, like in the video above, it's someone out walking their dog, or riding an ATV where they aren't supposed to be.
Trespasser encounters can take many different forms. But what would you do?
This is one I have experience with myself. I had another guy come crashing through the woods at nine in the morning one day late in Michigan's firearm's season, right onto my uncle's property, gun in hand.
It was simultaneously both infuriating and frightening because this guy was a total stranger to me, and you never know how someone is going to react when you confront them in a situation like this.
In the case of my encounter, I decided to simply inform the man this was private property. What was especially insulting was that he then tried to claim he had permission to hunt my uncle's land! After I sternly told him again, he turned and walked away back down the property line, but not before I snapped a few photos of him with my DSLR.
My uncle was later able to identify the guy and spread the word that he'd been trespassing in the area. That's about as far as that story went.
One thing we DO NOT suggest is escalating the situation. It's just not a good idea in any situation involving weapons. Take photos or video as evidence. Try to get a distinguishing landmark in the background to prove your case and report them to law enforcement.
In a case where someone you recognize is on your trail camera, don't barge over to their house if you happen to know them.
If it comes to it, be respectful in your exchanges, as hard as it may seem. Politely inform the trespasser they are on private property. In some cases (hopefully most), it may turn out that the person's intent was not to trespass.
If you hunt property that butts up against public land, sometimes it's easy to get turned around. I've encountered public hunting land before that had borders that were poorly defined until I saw "No Trespassing" signs.
Above all, we suggest trying to handle any trespassing situation like an adult. We know it's not a good feeling to have someone else on your property, but just stay calm and try to diffuse the situation as peacefully as you can.
Sometimes it may be just a misunderstanding. And if it isn't, and it's being done intentionally, we suggest letting the proper authorities take over.
Would you take those suggestions? What would be your reaction?
3. Shot an illegal animal by mistake
This one could happen to anyone at any time and any place. Maybe you're deer hunting in an area with antler point restrictions and a buck that appears to be a large 8-point turns out to be an abnormally large forkhorn.
Maybe you went to shoot what you thought was a doe and walk up only to find it was a buck with spikes that were perfectly hidden by the animal's ears.
This is a tough one that bird hunters can face nearly every time they go out. Sometimes it's hard to tell the different species apart, and one species that is closed might be hanging out in the same area as the ones that are open. Can you honestly distinguish every species of duck that you could encounter on your hunt?
Another common scenario is when a hunter takes one shot, but two animals fall. It happens mostly with deer, but it happens often with turkeys too since they often bunch up close to one another. If you take one shot and two gobblers fall, but you only have one tag, what do you do?
If you live in a state where party hunting is legal, you might not have anything to worry about as long as someone else in your group at the time has a tag. But in the states where it isn't, it brings on a real ethical dilemma, and too many hunters do make the wrong choice here by trying to cover up the extra animal.
Whatever you do, don't panic, and don't be afraid to admit your mistake. Most game wardens will warn you that it is better to be honest and fess up rather than trying to hide what happened. So long that everything else about your hunt was legal and you can demonstrate that you didn't mean for it to happen, it usually won't result in any major consequences.
It may result in a ticket, but I've read of plenty of stories that ended up with a simple warning.
Most of the time, the game warden will probably take that extra animal from you, but I have read a few stories about people being given an extra tag to keep the unexpected harvest. It's all going to depend on the area you are hunting and conservation officer you deal with. But again, we advise being honest and admitting the mistake. Most wardens will understand. We're all human.
Could you forgive yourself and fess up in this scenario?
One thing I've learned after nearly 20 years of hunting is to expect the unexpected. You might not think a situation like I've described above will ever happen to you. I used to think the same until a trespasser nearly walked into my hunting blind.
Just keep an open mind and keep your wits about you, and you should be able to handle any scenario that you might encounter in the woods.